Whacking Libraries

In the depths of the Great Depression, not a single public library in America closed its doors. Banks went under, farmers went bankrupt, millions of people were out of work and out of luck—but the American public clung to its libraries, not only because of their inherent value to our society, but also because they are symbols of community strength and hope.


How lame, then, to see public officials today—from George W. Bush to city council members—reaching for the budget axe to whack library funding, forcing branches to close, valuable services to be eliminated, and hours to be cut. In a time of unprecedented wealth in America, in a time when governments dump billions of taxpayer dollars into corporate subsidies and boondoggles, our so-called leaders are failing the people by going after these true public treasures.


Check out Salinas, Calif.—a hard hit working-class city which is now the largest population in America without a public library. Ironically, this is the hometown of John Steinbeck, the prize-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath and other powerful works that chronicled the human spirit during the Depression years. Steinbeck knew that literature has the power to elevate the spirit and help people rise above difficult times, and it is said that he got some of his early exposure to the power of literature at the Salinas library.


Since Steinbeck's day, Salinas expanded to three branch libraries, one named after him. But now, all three have been closed by the city council, which is facing large budget deficits. This move shuts out the 1,900 people a day who count on the library for books, literacy courses, internet access, after-school programs and other services. Also, nearly three dozen employees have been shown the door.


This is not a Salinas story, but a failure of all public leadership. Why are they dumping billions into Bush's Star Wars boondoggle, for example, while public libraries, which provide essential services that keep America informed and enlightened are forced to go begging?


Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.